‘Julian Dunn is back’: Wanderers’ newest defender ready for comeback season in CPL

Julian Dunn was in Hamar, Norway this winter, preparing for the 2024 Eliteserien campaign, when he started getting calls from his agents.

After a knee injury had kept Dunn off the pitch for almost two full seasons at HamKam, Dunn was feeling healthy and was focusing on getting back on the pitch in Norway. But as that interest persisted, he decided to at least consider his options.

Dunn figured it wouldn’t hurt to just take a call with Halifax Wanderers head coach Patrice Gheisar. That changed everything.

“You might have heard it from other players, but Patrice, he can talk,” Dunn told “When you listen to him and he presents you with his ideas and his plan, it’s something that you really want to buy into.”

Dunn, who played for Valour during the CPL’s 2020 Island Games season while on loan from Toronto FC, earning a nomination for Best Canadian U-21 Player, had continued to follow the league from afar. He spoke regularly with former teammates who play in the league and said he had been impressed by the turnaround he saw in Halifax under Gheisar this past season. That phone call with the Halifax coach quickly convinced him that he could be a key part of that continued growth.

Once you get onto the call with Pat, he knows he got you,” said Dunn with a laugh. 

In February, Halifax made it official, announcing the signing of the 23-year-old Canadian for the 2024 season, with a club option for 2025.

“It’s exciting for me, I look forward to the season, and for me, it’s another opportunity to show people that Julian Dunn is back because I feel like a lot of people are counting me out after my injury,” he said. 

Julian Dunn in preseason training with Halifax Wanderers (Photo: Halifax Wanderers)

Dunn’s connections to Gheisar and many of the players and staff with the Wanderers go back to the very start of his playing days. Dunn began his soccer journey at Vaughan Soccer Club, which in 2014 appointed Gheisar as assistant coach of the senior men’s Vaughan Azzurri side in League1 Ontario. At four years of age, Dunn first stepped onto the pitch as a member of the self-named ‘Turkey Tigers’ team in Vaughan youth soccer.

“That was the most youth soccer name there was,” said Dunn with a smile, “when I was just starting out I still remember I had a yellow jersey, it’s like pretty much those Tim Hortons jerseys.” 

While Dunn was never directly coached by Gheisar during his time with Vaughan, he would often see his now-head coach, as well as Halifax assistant Jorden Feliciano, around the club. He also played with and against many of the players he will now call teammates and opponents in the CPL.

“I feel like it’s a full circle moment in a sense because it’s a Vaughan connection, I’m seeing a lot of the guys that I played against when I was younger and now we’re all back together so it’s pretty fun,” he said. 

Speaking of full-circle moments, Dunn originally broke through as a professional player with Toronto FC in Major League Soccer. When he signed a deal as a homegrown player in 2018, it was announced at the same time as two other players: his now Halifax teammates Aidan Daniels and Ryan Telfer.

“We were looking at a picture of the guys who made a jump from TFC II to the first team and they had us all three beside each other and it’s like we are all back together now,” said Dunn. “So yeah it was funny having a laugh about it when I was coming over.” 

A reunion of sorts for those players against Toronto FC is not out of the question this year either. Should Halifax defeat Ligue1 Québec champions CS Saint-Laurent in the opening round of the 2024 Canadian Championship on May 2, they might get a home-and-away quarter-final tie against TFC if the MLS club can win its own preliminary round against Simcoe County Rovers.

Toronto FC press release from April of 2018 announcing the signings of Aidan Daniels, Julian Dunn and Ryan Telfer to first-team deals (Photo:

Having so many familiar faces in Halifax is already helping Dunn quickly integrate into his new home. His first impressions of Halifax, he says, have been very positive.

“I’m hearing a lot about the fans, I’m getting to see a little bit of them also so it’s going to be really exciting to get into the season and get to that home opener and have those amazing fans behind us,” said Dunn. “As for the city I can’t complain, coming from a small city in Norway, a lot smaller than Halifax, smaller population, I feel like I have everything here that I need.”

Returning to Canada also means being much closer to his home city of Toronto, and his family. Having been away for so long, this will be special for Dunn.

“They haven’t seen me play in a long time, so just to be able to come back and have them there, it means a lot for me,” he said. 

While the time away in Norway was difficult for Dunn, he says it also helped him mature significantly as an individual. He was now doing his own cooking, and optimizing his schedule around his soccer career. He says being in a football-first country like Norway made that a necessity — something he learned during his very first sessions with HamKam.

“We were doing fitness tests and some of the fitness runs and I look over at these guys and they tell me ‘Yeah, I run until I throw up,’ and I’m like, that’s unreal man,” said Dunn. “I push myself but these guys are pushing themselves to the point where they’re physically, mentally exhausted. Like finished. So it’s just taking that and adding that to my game and just knowing not to take any of that for granted. I feel like that really benefited me.”

Dunn will bring that experience to a strong Halifax backline that allowed the joint second-fewest goals (32 in 28 matches — tied with Forge) in the league last season while bolstering an outstanding centre-back pairing consisting of Cale Loughrey and 2023 Defender of the Year nominee Daniel Nimick.

“It’s a really talented group,” said Dunn. “I’m really excited to come in, especially to our backline. I feel like we have a really, really strong backline. I’m just adding into the talent that we already have.”

After finishing tied on points with second place Forge FC last season, and hosting a playoff match for the first time in club history, Dunn believes the squad has all the ingredients to build on that positive momentum in 2024.

“I feel like with the squad that we have, we brought in a lot of new additions and they had a solid squad before, so I think the additions are just going to help,” said Dunn. “Definitely push for playoffs, push to actually win the whole thing.” 

On a personal note, Dunn feels like a strong season in Halifax could put him back on the radar of the Canadian national team. Knowing that central defender, in particular, is a position of need for the national team right now he thinks a strong season with the Wanderers could quickly put him back on the radar. Dunn has represented Canada at various youth levels. But more than anything, it is about rediscovering the level of consistency and quality that once had him rated as one of the top young central defenders in the country.

“Like I said before, I dealt with injury, and I know a lot of people probably look at me and say ‘okay, a player who has been injured, who knows what he will be like’,” said Dunn. “I just want to establish myself again and remind people that Julian Dunn is here.” 

He will get the chance to do just that, starting on April 13 when the Wanderers travel to Starlight Stadium to take on Pacific FC in their 2024 Canadian Premier League season opener.

I feel like this season in a sense is just like that comeback season, back from injury, back home, back with a good group of guys,” said Dunn.

“Just have to push forward and do what I know I can do.”